A Call to Reimagine the American Dream
Updated: May 5, 2021
In Response to the Violence Against the AAPI Community & AAPI Heritage Month
The artwork above was created by artist Rei Lo – a self-portrait created to challenge the media's silence on anti-Asian hate crimes beginning May 2020. Why is it – in the face of hate, racism, dehumanization – that so many of us are willing to undermine, diminish and gaslight these issues? Why do so many of us choose to stand silent?
“To be a force.” - Audrey Gelman, SxSW
The American Dream was my parents’ dream, not mine. They came over here, knowing that just being in the US would grant them countless opportunities that weren’t fathomable elsewhere. As a New York-bred, Philly native with immigrant parents, I think it’s in my DNA to believe that success comes from being an unstoppable force. We’ve grown up in a time where the terrifying reality of American existence is the fallacy that our dreams are within reach, though, “nothing can stop us.”
I feel lucky to not share the same dream. My parents moved here to give me the opportunity to not fear for my future. But, over the past year, recognizing this fallacy of the American Dream is unavoidable. Part of this terrifying reality are the creeping thoughts,
“What if I, too, am torn away from this world before I can achieve anything?”
As an American, it’s terrifying to become used to the hurt and violence of marginalized communities. To grow up seeing destroyed families, careers, dreams, over and over again – does that make us resilient? Or is it trauma? The truth is that we do not deserve to endure it. No matter how inspiring it is to “overcome,” the idea that it happens at all is especially traumatic.
As an Asian American woman, this feels overdue. I’m not looking to inspire or take on the responsibility to educate my entire circle (nor is it any AAPI’s task), but I do feel a responsibility to react and make sure all those in my circle know how to think about racial injustice. Even a month later, I have never been so aware of my identity before in my life, to have my race be put on blast. Reading the headlines March 16th, my immediate reaction was to avoid social media and the news so I wouldn’t have to think about it at work all day. My mother is a spa owner, and my whole family has worked there. I couldn’t bear to sit idly in my own fear that it could’ve been her.
I recognize how privileged I am to be able to do so; how we all are privileged enough to just turn away from social media to avoid these realities. But, I couldn’t avoid my texts or emails. “Hi, I’m so sorry, and I’m here for you. What can I do?”
So, as Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month commences, I beg you to ask yourself as I am asking myself: What can we all do?
For me, I’ve dedicated my life to democratizing equitable opportunities, or in other words, making pipe dreams attainable and reachable. Each move in my career represents this in some shape or form – some small, some big.
I think we all believe that we should be creating waves of change, but it doesn’t need to start there. To quote some cool people:
Bernie Wong, Manager of Research & Design at Mind Share Partners said in his article for Forbes, “The biggest companies right now are continuing to use high-visibility representational wins and DEI initiatives as a shield while actively lobbying legislatures to continue tearing down regulations and finding excuses to underpay workers,”
It’s no longer about flipping the script. Seeing AAPI CEOs isn’t enough. Flaunting inclusivity isn’t enough. It’s time to enact inclusion at every level. At 2.0, we’re building tools and frameworks to empower and accompany ambitious professionals in tackling every opportunity that comes their way. Leaders, startup founders, small business owners, teammates, entry-level peers can all be taking action.
So, I'm calling for you to reimagine the American Dream and the future of work.
First, be enraged, and let that drive productive commitment to change within your circle.
I implore you to share the rage and disbelief of the deeply rooted and nonchalant nature of racism today. Have conversations with your loved ones to make sure they don’t contribute to it, especially in the form of microaggressions. I know it sucks to initiate uncomfortable conversations, but you should start to lean into discomfort. Minorities in America have been uncomfortable for quite some time. Drive your conversations into an insightful rapport on innovations and creations of marginalized groups for recognition. Help normalize tough conversations so that it becomes easier for us to be open to change.
Second, respect the privacy of your AAPI friends and family.
We don't owe anyone a long explanation or emotional reflection – these situations already require a lot of emotional labor and mourning and can trigger our own traumas. It's important to remember that members of the AAPI community, or any marginalized communities for that matter, don't owe anyone their feelings. Sometimes we need to feel and emote privately. It's not the AAPI community's responsibility to explain and teach these complex, triggering things to anyone. Instead, create space for your underrepresented peers to emote and take up space. Think about your workplace and how you can create a virtual space to create change for your teammates (i.e. ERGs, lunch + learn, happy hours). Ask if they want to talk about it, and if it’s a ‘no,’ leave it be. Let them know they can come to you when they want.
Third, assess the opportunities you could be creating for your underrepresented teammates and advance them.
As ambitious humans in this world, we have to figure out a time for feelings and a time for praxis, the practice of action-reflection-action. Action, a word that elicits different things to different people, requires you to assess the scope in which you have an impact. Evaluate your day-to-day at work. Who do you speak with? Strategize with? Mentor (unofficially, even)? Receive feedback from? Evaluate the opportunities you’ve been given and how that can empower you to create opportunities for others. Maybe it’s as simple as passing the mic during a meeting if someone isn’t being heard. “I think we just missed Sarah’s point. Can we take a pause and allow her to share?” It could also be recognition. “That was a fantastic point that Yu made. Let’s have him lead this discussion.” Reflect on how this changes the narrative for this individual and how you can be an advocate that lifts them up in actionable ways. Act again. Drive more equity of opportunity.
Lastly, one more note - force yourself to learn your peers’ names correctly. Your teammate may have a name that is difficult for you to say and they may volunteer an Americanized name, force yourself to learn. They chose that Americanized name to make it easier for assimilation and for you to say. Instead of having them bend for you, bend for them. Practice again and again. It’s the least we can do.
So, why do we do all of this? Well, as ambitious humans, we all need to create a world where we can fuel our ambitions together. Ambition isn’t singular in action; it’s contagious. The actions we take now, no matter the size, can keep us from having to contemplate pain any further. It will give our family, our daughters, and our friends, a future where they can walk down a street and not fear the eyes and hands of evil, and of hate. These are the actions we must take. Be ambitious.
Founder of The 2.0 Collective